Hardly a day goes by where I don't get an email in my inbox announcing some new program aimed at Latina mamis. There are marketing events and ad campaigns, social networks and blog networks, websites and newsletters, all seeming to have made the same assumption: if you are Latina, you must also be a mother.
It's easy to understand why that would be the prevailing wisdom about U.S. Hispanic women, given the findings of the 2010 U.S. Census, which showed that the Latino population explosion over the past decade has been driven primarily by births--which, in turn, means that there are a lot of Latinas out there having kids. Upon closer look, however, it turns out that following the simple formula of "Hispanic+woman=mother" is not quite accurate. Not only has the growth rate for Latino children actually slowed from 43% in the 1990s to 39% during the last decade, but from 1994 to 2008, the rate of childlessness among Latinas grew by more than 30%, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, today, nearly 20% of Latinas do not have children.
Those aren't the only ways in which the mainstream image of the Latino family goes against reality. Think most of us are single moms? (Uh, yeah, you know you do.) Turns out that 65% of Latino kids live with both their parents. Think Latinas stay married forever? Turns out blended families are more common among Latinos than non-Hispanic whites--and among U.S. professionals earning more than $100,000 a year, we're the most likely to divorce of any ethnic group.
Why is it so important to debunk the myths surrounding the Latino family? After all, Latinos pride themselves on being so strongly identified with a family image, and in survey after survey cite family as the most important thing in their lives. Well, for starters, at a time when we Latinos are trying to leverage our growing population numbers into growing cultural influence and political impact, the last thing we want to see happening is the trading of one stereotype for another. In other words, just like we are not all maids or gardeners, full-bodied bombshells or hot-blooded lovers, we are also not all getting married and having children in traditional ways.
If we are truly to be recognized as a vital part of American life, we need for the rest of the country to understand that when it comes to our families, we are as diverse as anyone else--and deserve not only to be portrayed in a more complex way, but pursued in a more complex way, too. I mean, while it's great that there are so many companies out there interested in Latina mamis, I can't help but wonder: what's being done for Latina entrepreneurs, who are starting new businesses at a rate six times higher than that of any other group? Or for the young Latinas who participated in a 2009 report conducted by the National Women's Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, nearly all of whom wanted to have professional careers as doctors, lawyers, nurses and scientists? Or for the Latinos who said--at a rate twice that of non-Latinos--that they value their independence too much to get married, according to a recent study by the Roman Catholic Church?
And yet I see mainstream America doing very little talking to, and even less targeting of, Latinos like these. It's always easier, of course, to stick to the familiar, the tried-and-true. And if there's one thing that mainstream America knows about Latinos, it's that we prioritize our families. Therefore, it makes sense--with everyone seeking a way to connect to Latino audiences these days--that so many have latched on to the archetype of the Latino family, and, within that, the idealized Latina mami. To do so, however, is to miss connecting with a huge part of the Latino population, to undersell us and underserve us, to misrepresent us and misunderstand us. So if you're serious about engaging with us, it's time to let go of the old Latino mythology--and start taking a closer look at who we really are.